In some respects, the central theme of “Hal” in considering questions about the balance between art and commerce has been revisited on several fronts. Recent conversations surrounding those issues range from the decision to create an Oscar category honoring “popular film” — after a string of art-house-type winners — to actor/director Ethan Hawke generated headlines by appearing to deride the emphasis on superhero movies, at least compared to higher-minded fare.
In an interview, Hawke talked about being urged to see the Wolverine sequel “Logan,” having been told that it was a great movie. Hawke characterized the film as “a fine superhero movie” but not a great film, adding, “There’s a difference, but big business doesn’t think there’s a difference. Big business wants you to think that this is a great film because they wanna make money off of it.”
The modern blockbuster, notably, made its debut toward the end of Ashby’s heyday in the 1970s, as the success of “Jaws” and “Star Wars” ushered in an age of heightened box-office expectations, particularly during the summer.
Obviously, movies of the sort that Ashby championed still get made, with more platforms to showcase them — including streaming services — than ever before. But the question of whether movies can pursue high art while satisfying the demands of big business still lingers, as does the perception among many filmmakers that the studios, if not necessarily their enemies, aren’t their friends.
“Hal” opens in limited release in New York on Sept. 7, Los Angeles on Sept. 14 and additional cities thereafter.